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Rising nitrous oxide emissions could put Paris Agreement goals out of reach

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Oct. 7 (UPI) — Around the world, nitrous oxide emissions are rising, imperiling the effort to meet the climate goals set by the Paris Agreement.

According to a new study, published Wednesday in the journal Nature, the growing use of nitrogen fertilizers by industrial agriculture has led to a dramatic increase in N2O emissions.

For the study, researchers analyzed major N2O sources and sinks all over the world. The effort was aided by scientists from 48 research institutions in 14 countries.

“This study presents the most comprehensive and detailed picture to date, of N2O emissions and their impact on climate,” lead study author Parvadha Suntharalingam, climate scientist at the University of East Anglia in Britain, said in a news release.

The data showed modern atmospheric nitrous oxide levels are 20 percent higher than preindustrial levels, increasing to 331 parts per billion in 2018 from 270 parts per billion in 1750. The majority of the increase, scientists determined, occurred during the last half-century — and is the result of human activities.

“The dominant driver of the increase in atmospheric nitrous oxide comes from agriculture, and the growing demand for food and feed for animals will further increase global nitrous oxide emissions,” said study co-author Hanqin Tian.

“There is a conflict between the way we are feeding people and stabilizing the climate,” said Tian, director of the International Center for Climate and Global Change Research at Auburn University.

The findings underscore the message from the United Nations that the effort to curb climate change demands significant land-use changes, researchers say.

Like carbon dioxide and methane, nitrous dioxide is a greenhouse gas, but its warming effect is 300 times more potent than CO2. Once emitted, scientists estimate N2O remains in the atmosphere for more than a century.

The new analysis showed agricultural practices

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Nitrous oxide emissions pose an increasing climate threat, study finds

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Rising nitrous oxide (N2O) emissions are jeopardizing the climate goals of the Paris Agreement, according to a major new study by an international team of scientists.


The growing use of nitrogen fertilizers in the production of food worldwide is increasing atmospheric concentrations of N2O—a greenhouse gas 300 times more potent than carbon dioxide (CO2) that remains in the atmosphere for more than 100 years.

Published today in the journal Nature, the study was led Auburn University, in the US, and involved scientists from 48 research institutions in 14 countries—including the University of East Anglia (UEA) in the UK—under the umbrella of the Global Carbon Project and the International Nitrogen Initiative.

The aim was to produce the most comprehensive assessment to date of all global sources and sinks of N2O. Their findings show N2O emissions are increasing faster than any emission scenario developed by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), consistent with greenhouse gas scenarios that lead to global mean temperature increases well above 3°C from pre-industrial levels. The Paris Agreement aims to limit warming to less than 2°C but ideally no more than 1.5°C.

The study points to an alarming trend affecting climate change: N2O has risen 20 percent from pre-industrial levels—from 270 parts per billion (ppb) in 1750 to 331ppb in 2018—with the fastest growth observed in the last 50 years due to emissions from human activities.

Prof Hanqin Tian, director of the International Center for Climate and Global Change Research at Auburn University’s School of Forestry and Wildlife Sciences, co-led the study.

“The dominant driver of the increase in atmospheric nitrous oxide comes from agriculture, and the growing demand for food and feed for animals will further increase global nitrous